Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Montessori Student Journals: Finding the Right Fit For Your Classroom

NAMC montessori student journals finding the right classroom fit binders vs notebooksI have recently been asked a number of questions about Montessori student journals that are worth sharing with our blog readers. The questions posed by NAMC elementary diploma program students are paraphrased as follows:

Instead of having a journal for every subject: Math, Language Arts, History, etc. did you ever use a three-ring binder or something similar for each student with dividers breaking the subjects up into different sections? In doing this, the Montessori students still get the beginning-of-the-year experience of labeling each section (as they can do this with the dividers), and it seems less wasteful (is all the paper in spiral bound notebooks used?) and for first graders, it seems a bit easier to handle.

I did an observation in a Montessori elementary class with the various journals and found that the students’ cubbies did not have the same orderly appearance of the Montessori classroom. I realize that this is a skill that the Montessori teacher needs to guide children into. What do you think would be the drawbacks, if any, of trying the one main notebook idea? On a side note, I think I would keep separate the creative writing journal and the travel journal that my Montessori students take outside to record observations.

Montessori Student Journals: Finding the Right Fit For Your Classroom - Notebooks vs. Binders

These are good questions. Yes, I have tried using a 3-ring binder, but only in the upper elementary classroom (ages 9-12), and only for one year. Is my personal opinion that lower elementary (ages 6-9) students are not ready for the 3-ring binders mainly because the binders are big and bulky and first graders are so very small. The binders are hard to carry, they do not fit well on small laps, they take up a lot of room on floors and tables, they are hard to open and close (and pinch fingers!), they are a distraction – click, click, click, click…Imagine a calm, peaceful, Montessori work period being constantly interrupted by someone having to open a ring binder. In addition, papers are easily torn out of a 3-ring binder and then you need all those little gummed 3-hole reinforcements to be able to put the papers back in the binder. Those too, are a big distraction.

I found that using a 3-ring binder with dividers was also difficult for my Montessori upper elementary students. In addition to the above-stated reasons, papers did not always get filed right away, or arranged properly. The binders did not fit in the cubbies and had to be stored elsewhere. Binders broke. They were dropped, scattering loose papers everywhere.

NAMC montessori student journals finding the right classroom fit binders vs notebooks
Personally, I much prefer the small black and white composition books. Pages in spiral notebooks tear out too easily, the covers rip, and again, they are too large for the smaller students. Here is how I have used and divided them (with tabs) before:
  • Language - divided into spelling, grammar, and reading.
  • Writing – divided into journals and writing
  • Math
  • Science – Botany, Zoology, Matter/Astronomy
  • History & Geography – History, Cultural Geography, and Physical Geography
For loose papers, I have asked each of my Montessori students to use colored pocket folders for each subject. I employ a consistent color code system so everyone knows that the yellow folder is for language, red is for science, etc. It takes some training, but not nearly as much as a 3-ring binder.

As for the mess in cubbies, you correctly indicate this as a matter of the Montessori teacher guiding and modeling how things are to be stored in the cubby, being consistent about checking, and holding our Montessori students responsible for keeping their cubbies clean and organized.
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, July 12, 2011.


  1. How do you divide the composition books? They are bound, so I can't imagine what you use to separate the sections. Thank you!

  2. I have used self-adhesive tabs that can be purchased in office supply stores. Or, when funds were low, Post-it Notes or flags worked well, too. You can also find 3-subject composition books at back-to-school sales at your local warehouse stores or office supply stores.

  3. Here is a helpful note from one of our NAMC students:
    "Personally, I have used the composition books recommended here, but last year I made a great discovery: Roaring Springs Paper Products Composition Notebooks, which I found at Staples, are smaller comp books, but they still have that strong binding. They only have 50 pages, so students usually fill one about half way through the year. Here is the best part; they come with primary lined (dotted lined) paper, increasingly smaller by grade and grade one books have a green cover, second grade has blue, third has red—perfectly matching our math colors."

  4. Cheryl Koenig MorganAugust 1, 2013 at 11:03 AM

    My students keep some of their composition books from one year to the next. This solves the problem of wasted paper and expense. Some books, like geography and writing fill up every year and are sent home, but the others last throughout the three-year cycle. The students are always amazed at the improvement in their composition and handwriting over time. I also use a quadrille composition book for geometry which lasts for three years.


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